Ore. gun control law draws concern among police
Measure 114 would require a permit from law enforcement, safety training and a background check before a gun purchase
By Erick Bengel
The Daily Astorian
ASTORIA, Ore. — Officials in local law enforcement and criminal justice have expressed concern about a ballot measure in November that would toughen restrictions around the sale, style and use of firearms in Oregon.
Measure 114 would require a permit from law enforcement, safety training and a background check before a gun purchase. It would also ban ammunition magazines with more than 10 rounds.
The measure is intended to reduce gun violence and mass shootings and make it harder for shooters to inflict so much carnage.
Supporters also point to the measure's ability to pause the purchasing process. This, they argue, could prevent people in an impulsive mood from taking their own or another's life.
"Measure 114 will prevent suicides by eliminating impulsive, immediate gun purchases," Carol Manstrom, a retired police officer whose son committed suicide by firearm, said at recent panel of supporters.
Law enforcement leaders worry about the measure's potential costs, including the staffing capacity needed to process applications.
"That'll be a challenge for a lot of police departments," said Clatsop County Sheriff Matt Phillips, who opposes the measure.
He worries that his office would need to add an employee to handle the volume of permit requests. The fees — $65 dollars to apply for a permit, $50 to renew — would not cover the costs, he said.
In addition, "from an equity perspective, it's a barrier to people with lower incomes from legally possessing a firearm," Phillips said. "It just adds one more expense."
Astoria Police Chief Stacy Kelly shared similar concerns about additional strain on departments that would find themselves in charge of processing permit applications.
"I think the intentions were probably good," Kelly said, "but as with most things there's the unintended consequences that we have to worry about."
Ron Louie, a former Astoria police chief who teaches criminal justice at Portland State University, supports the measure from a public safety standpoint. He acknowledged that it would require an investment from the state.
"As a retired police chief, I wouldn't want to be hit with a mandate without having some funding to assist me," he said at the panel.
Kelly also wondered about the police role in the firearm safety courses.
If officers provide the training and sign off on an applicant's competence, and the new gun owner then goes out and commits an atrocity with the gun, would the police department be liable? Would the city?
"How is that going to work? The city of Astoria getting sued because someone did something really bad with a firearm?" Kelly asked.
John Hummel, the Deschutes County district attorney, who supports the measure, said police departments would not necessarily have to teach the courses, just certify them.
"You can bet the private sector is going to ramp up," he said at the panel. "This will be a good business opportunity for central and eastern Oregon, no doubt, where a lot of people are going to be wanting to obtain a permit to purchase."
Hummel added, "I'm not worried about the creativity of Oregonians who want to make a buck who can create these classes all throughout the state."
Clatsop County District Attorney Ron Brown worries that the measure gives law enforcement — the "permit agent" — the power to decide whether the applicant is mentally fit to own a firearm.
The measure asks law enforcement to determine whether the applicant "has been or is reasonably likely to be a danger to self or others, or to the community at large, as a result of the applicant's mental or psychological state or as demonstrated by the applicant's past pattern of behavior involving unlawful violence or threats of unlawful behavior."
This standard, Brown pointed out, is similar to that used in civil commitments: that the person has a mental illness and poses a danger to self or others. In civil commitment hearings, a court decides whether the person meets this standard.
"I don't know that that's proper, to delegate typically a court function to a police agency or any other administrative agency," said Brown, who opposes the measure.
The constitutionality of the measure is also unclear.
Last year, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a California law limiting magazine capacity. The U.S. Supreme Court ordered the appeals court to take another look at the decision in light of the high court's ruling in a New York case in June involving gun restrictions. The Supreme Court did not rule that magazine limits are unconstitutional.
Matt Ellis, the Wasco County district attorney, who supports the measure, said during the panel that, "as of right now, there is nothing unconstitutional about 114, and anybody declaring that's so is just saying that out of their own personal biases.
"So, as of right now, the restrictions in 114 have not been deemed unconstitutional by any court."
Permit-to-purchase laws have been passed in 14 other states and in Washington, D.C. Laws limiting magazine capacity have been passed in nine states and in Washington, D.C.
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